By all accounts—and I’ve received a number of emails already and talked with many of the conference attendees—the First Biennial John Updike Society Conference was a big hit. People remarked that the quality of papers was high, the blend of information and recreation was perfect, and the conference was full of fun surprises. Like, some people didn’t realize that we actually got to go inside both the Plowville farmhouse and the house at 117 Philadelphia, and also hear from the son of John Updike’s pastor, who told stories about John in the church and read letters from him. It was a surprise, too, to hear Jackie Hirneisen Kendall read a love poem that a 10-year-old John Updike wrote for her. No wonder Updike’s high-school teachers recognized superior talent, because this poem was far beyond what a typical 10 year old can write.
Read Bruce R. Posten’s account in the Reading Eagle.
There were far too many highlights to list, but the family panel (with Mary Weatherall, Elizabeth Cobblah, Michael Updike, and Miranda Updike) was certainly one of them, as was the classmates panel featuring Kendall, Joan Youngerman, Harlan Boyer, and Jimmy Trexler, who had plenty of Updike stories to share. Keynote speakers Ann Beattie and Lincoln Perry also wowed the audience, and after hearing Don Greiner talk about the early days of Updike scholarship everyone got a full sense of just how far Updike scholarship has come. Both tours of the area were much appreciated, but so was the fellowship among scholars and devoted readers of Updike. It was a wonderful group that gathered here in Reading.
Next stop? Boston! At the business meeting it was announced that Suffolk University will host the Second Biennial John Updike Society Conference, with member Quentin Miller (author of John Updike and the Cold War: Drawing the Iron Curtain and a professor at Suffolk) acting as site director. Miller has experience hosting a conference at Suffolk, and he’ll be assisted by myself and by Bernie Rodgers of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, who’s the editor of the forthcoming Critical Insights: John Updike). Rodgers has agreed to serve as the program director. Possible side trips include an afternoon at Harvard seeing Updike-related sites and some of the Houghton Library treasures; a trip to the Ipswich and Beverly Farms areas, where Updike spent much of his writing life after he left Pennsylvania; and Hawthorne-related trips to Salem and Concord. Since the conference will take place sometime during the summer months and will be longer than three days, attendees will also be able to visit Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, as Updike did.
As everyone wished each other safe trips home, the refrain seemed to be, “See you in Boston in two years.” Pictured is the registration table at Alvernia, a group socializing at the hotel (Elizabeth Cobblah, Don Greiner, Patti and Jack De Bellis, Jim Schiff, Biljana Dojcinovic-Nesic, and Dave Silcox), and the classmates panel. For more photos, check out the Society’s Facebook page. And for those who can’t wait for 2012, look for an announcement soon regarding the American Literature Association Conference which, in 2011, will be held in Boston. The Society sponsors two panels, and member Richard Androne has agreed to coordinate those panels.